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Chicago Architecture and Design

Chicago is recognized around the world for its impressive and distinctive architecture. Chicago was the birthplace of the modern skyscraper, its skyline is one of the most memorable in the world, and the city continues to be a center of architectural innovation.

A large part of the reason that Chicago enjoys such architectural fame is because the city has successfully attracted some of the most imaginative architects in the world. Here are a few of the bigger names that have left their mark on the Chicago skyline.

William Boyington built many of Chicago’s most impressive structures from before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871. Some of the most notable of Boyington’s structures were the Chicago Water Tower and Pumping Station on Michigan Avenue, the original Chicago Board of Trade Building, and the Castle-like entrance to the Rosehill Cemetery. Much of the reason that Boyington’s are some of the only structures to survive the fire is that they were made of limestone.

Daniel Burnham is probably the architect who is most closely associated with Chicago’s civic and architectural history, although his most famous building, New York’s Flatiron Building, isn’t even in Chicago. In Chicago, Burnham built the Masonic Temple, which was one of the first American skyscrapers, he served as the Director of Works of the Columbian Exposition in 1892, and he built the Marshall Field and Company Building on State Street, to name a few of his achievements.

Santiago Calatrava is the newest architectural superstar to arrive in Chicago. Calatrava hails from Spain and he has designed some of the most impressive buildings, bridges and other structures in the world, including the nearby Milwaukee Art Museum. Calatrava has put forth plans for the 2,000-foot Chicago Spire, which is currently under construction and is expected to be completed in 2010.

Frank Gehry, the quirky Pritzker Prize-winning architect whose unconventional buildings have set the standard for 21st century architecture, has also left his mark on Chicago. Gehry designed the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park, which is one of the most impressive band shells in the world.

Holabird & Roche / Root was one of Chicago’s most successful architecture firms during the end of the 19th and the beginning of the 20th centuries. The firm was founded in 1880 by William Holabird and Martin Roch, and they later partnered with John Wellborn Root, Jr. on several projects. Together, they designed Soldier Field, the Palmer House Hotel, the Chicago Daily News Building, and the Palmolive Building.

William Le Baron Jenney came to Chicago soon after the Civil War ended and promptly formed an architecture firm, and along with Fredrick Law Olmsted, he helped to plan and design Chicago’s beautiful boulevard system. Jenney also designed some of the city’s first steel-framed skyscrapers with the Manhattan and Ludington buildings.

Rem Koolhaas is a Dutch architect and theorist know around the world as one of the most radical and innovative practitioners of modern and avant-garde urban design. Koolhaas designed the McCormick Tribune Campus Center at the Illinois Institute of Technology in Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood in 1997. Before, the site was an unsightly parking lot and classes were frequently interrupted by the deafening roar of CTA Green Line trains passing overhead. Now, the campus is not only more functional and pleasant – it has even become a tourist attraction.

George W. Maher was one of the pioneers of the “Prairie School” of architecture, along with Frank Lloyd Wright, of course. Maher’s work is more prevalent in the north shore suburbs of Kenilworth, Evanston and Winnetka than it is in Chicago, and he planned the campus for Northwestern University.

Ludwig Mies van der Rohe made Chicago his home alter emigrating from his native Germany during World War II. Van der Rohe is widely considered one of the pioneers of modern architecture. His buildings are boxy, minimal and forbidding, and Chicago is full of them. Soon after moving her, van der Rohe became the head of the architecture school at the Armour Institute of Technology, which was later renamed the Illinois Institute of Technology. Some of van der Rohe’s most famous Chicago buildings include the IBM Plaza on North Wabash Street, S.R. Crown Hall at IIT, and the twin towers at 860-880 Lake Shore Drive.

Skidmore, Owings and Merrill is probably the most recognizable Chicago-based architectural firm of the 20th century, as they’ve had a hand in several of the city’s most iconic buildings. Skidmore, Owings and Merrill specializes in skyscrapers, and they tend to go for only the largest and most spectacular. It’s no surprise, then, that Skidmore, Owings and Merrill is behind Chicago’s two most famous buildings: the Sears Tower, the John Hancock Center and the trump International Hotel and Tower.

Louis H. Sullivan was perhaps the most influential of them all, even though he’s less recognized than Frank Lloyd Wright and Ludwig Van der Rohe. Sullivan moved to Chicago after the Great Chicago Fire to help rebuild the city, and in the process, he helped design some of the world’s first skyscrapers.

Frank Lloyd Wright is widely considered to be the most famous architect in American history. Beginning at the turn of the century, Wright designed dozens of “Prairie Style” houses around the country, but mainly in Chicago and Buffalo, NY.

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